CD: Thank you for being a part of this grand experiment called FUSEVISUAL. When we met several years ago I was intrigued by your portraits. I love the sense of place and scale. They are graphic with a strong sense of place and warmth. How did this style of photography develop for you? Did it come from studying graphic design and applied arts, or, was it a sense of design that has always been a part of your life?
Virgile Simon Bertrand: My initial intent was to become an architect and I joined the Ecole Boulle at the age of 15. I had the greatest time studying there as it was more about understanding the creative process in a general sense (think Bauhaus) instead of acquiring specialised skills. The teachers were open minded and diverse and in addition to fashion design, interior design, woodwork, etc. we were introduced to photography which led me to a change of plan! I shifted my main focus towards graphic design and then photography at the Ecole Nationale de la Photographie in Arles. I did not stay there for very long as I was already working in the field of dance photography at the National Opera House in particular. I was also processing rolls of films for two Magnum photographers which allowed me to get access to the archives of the Paris bureau. I learned a lot by just looking at the contact sheets of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Josef Koudelka. I have never “calculated” the way I photograph, its just the way it all came together.
CD: In your early years you traveled quite a bit by bike. Tell us about those journeys and how they influenced your life. Why did you decide to move to Hong Kong?
Virgile Simon Bertrand: We traveled a lot with my parents in a camper van but the bicycling added a physical challenge to the traveling and I went across most of Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia and Iceland on a mountain bike. I simply believe that moving at the speed of a bicycle is the best way to connect with the local population and the surrounding landscape. I was on a very tight budget at the time and the experience was humbling particularly in Japan. I moved to Hong Kong after living for about a year in Taiwan. I love being in Asia, Hong Kong is a great place to conduct business and live. I head back to Europe or the United States regularly to visit galleries and museums.
CD: You also shoot architecture. Your building images has the same graphic feel as your portraits. Do you ever feel a disconnect between them and how to reconicle the needs of clients who want to pigeonhole you (or any photographer) into a easily understood niche?
Virgile Simon Bertrand: Europeans (or the Western World in general ?) might be reluctant to see bridges between different areas of specialisation but this is not the case in Hong Kong. Some art buyers ask me to shoot portraits – others tell me that they love the way I shoot buildings – and others are hiring me specifically because I can do both. Back to my personal motivations – Everything that we do is affected by the space around us and that connection is really what drives me when I make a photograph. Architectural photography and Portraiture are to me the two sides of the same coin. I love entering a space, interact with people and come up with my own interpretation in the form of a photograph.
CD: Recently you upgraded to a Leaf Credo back from an Aptus. Tell us about how you like working with the Credo on the new Hasselblad H4X and your Alpa technical camera system.
Virgile Simon Bertrand: My Credo 60 works equally well with the H4x and the Alpa which was not quite the case of the H4D that I owned for about two years in parallel to the Aptus 75s. “True Focus” is the key function that I really like about the H4X. Leaf has been very supportive and attentive to my needs over the years. I find modern HDSLRs too complex and bulky even if I get to use a D800E on occasion.
CD: You have developed a love of sailing. How does that create balance in your life and what is it about sailing that you love?
Virgile Simon Bertrand: I love being out there at sea – I like the physical challenge, the quietness, the learning process, a sense of freedom. I’m the proud owner of an International Dragon, a 1927 design which is difficult to sail well and beautiful to look at.
CD: What is your advice to young photographers about to enter this crazy business?
Virgile Simon Bertrand: It’s not about the technical skills or even the equipment. It’s about the “vision,” that one thing in the head that no one else can copy.